Apple Jack 2’s gently melancholic opening re-introduces us to the eponymous hero, now an overworked cubicle slave who yearns to relive the adventures of his first outing on Xbox Live Indie Games. And, to a point, he does: there is nothing wildly different about this sequel, though almost all its refinements are welcome.
As with the original, it takes its cues from Nintendo’s Doki Doki Panic: leap onto an enemy and you can balance on its head, before hurling it at another to destroy the pair of them. The objectives are as straightforward as ever – kill all enemies, or reach the level exit – while your aggressors are the same sentient washing machines, laser-eyed owls and marauding pandas that patrolled the first game’s environments. Cascades of fruit, rather than coins, are produced when two bodies collide, while a limited rewind feature affords the opportunity to undo mistakes – a wise inclusion that helps ease the frustrations some may have with the steep difficulty curve.
Indeed, its delightfully rough-hewn aesthetic and delicate folk soundtrack are misleading; peel back the sweet outer layer and you’ll find Apple Jack 2 is tough to the core. Its stern challenge might be harder to forgive if not for the restlessly inventive design: one stage asks you to escort a shadowy foe to another enemy at the finish line, while another sees you circle around the environment repeatedly, attempting to stay ahead of a screen-filling saw blade. Its more puzzle-led tasks may occasionally be too exacting, but they’re rare missteps in a game that expertly balances a very British brand of whimsy with some of the tautest game design you’re likely to find on the Indie Games service.